Despite signing only four days shy of his arbitration date, defenseman Matt Hunwick told the media in a teleconference Tuesday that he never thought of playing for another team and that he is excited to be back with the Bruins after signing a new two-year, $2.9 million contract Monday.
"From Day 1, Boston was the place where I wanted to be," Hunwick said. "It's a unique situation where so many players live downtown and live in such close proximity and that makes the team that much closer. And the direction the team is pointed in is outstanding. I think everyone is looking to build off what we did last year. As far as being in an environment to win, Boston's right up there. So the combination of the city, the team and the direction we're going in is something that I think a lot of players around the league would love to have."
The Bruins are very glad to have what they consider to be a key part of their defense back in the fold. Hunwick finished the season with 27 points, tied for first in the NHL among rookie defenseman, and showed the potential to become a top-four — even top-two — defenseman down the road. His combination of strong puck-moving skills and grit fits right into the Bruins system, as GM Peter Chiarelli pointed out to the media.
"Matt, I thought, had a very courageous year and a good year," Chiarelli said. "He proved himself to be an NHL player. He certainly performed well when he had the chance. His style of play, his grittiness, his compete level and his offensive bent have certainly allowed him to fit in well into our mix."
Hunwick entered the season as a borderline sixth defenseman, but over the course of 53 games played he became a key cog in the Bruins' defense and power play. The Michigan native said he tried to learn from every game and even from his time in the press box as a healthy scratch on some nights.
"Over the course of the season, I learned a lot," Hunwick said. "There were times when I was playing and playing well, and you can learn that way. And there were times when I was sitting out, and you have to learn from the press box. I think I learned in both those ways and I learned to always be ready to step in at any moment."
Hunwick was rushed to the hospital with a spleen injury just prior to Game 2 of the Bruins' first-round sweep of Montreal. And Chiarelli made a point after the team's second-round loss to Carolina to reiterate how the 24-year-old blue-liner and fellow injured defenseman Andrew Ference were sorely missed on the ice.
"Those are two types of defensemen — in Matt and Andrew — whose strengths are skating and retrieving pucks," said Chiarelli. "When both of them went down, you lose a component to your defensive corps that without which the rest of the corps has to pick up the slack. You miss the ability to retrieve the puck. Matt is very good at getting back there quickly and identifying the first pass."
Hunwick said his recovery has been going well and, at this point, his main focus has been adding weight. He dropped down to 177 pounds after his spleen operation, but he is now back up to 196. He is hoping to be between 198 and 200 when training camp starts.
"I took my rest when I was in the hospital," said Hunwick. "From that point, I've slowly been coming back. By the middle of June, I felt 100 percent. I have my wind. My weight is starting to come back, and there are absolutely no limitations right now. I'm training just as hard or harder than I did last summer. The spleen has been a non-issue so far."
As for the upcoming season and what the future holds, Hunwick is going to take the same approach he took in his rookie season: to learn and improve. But at the same time, he won't put any sort of restraint on his goals.
"It's hard to limit yourself and say, 'I have this much potential,'" he said. "I'll go into the season with the same mind-set as last season, trying to get the most out of myself as possible. There's always things in my game I'm trying to improve."